Government disbands LGBT Advisory Panel

Paul Brand has the details of a letter sent by the prime minister to the Evangelical Alliance a network of churches which has opposed a broad ban on conversion therapy. 

The government has disbanded its LGBT advisory panel, set up to guide ministers on issues affecting the community.

It follows the resignation last month of panel member Jayne Ozanne, who told ITV News that the government had created a "hostile environment" for LGBT+ people. Two other panel members also resigned in her wake.

On Tuesday, the Government Equalities Office said in a statement: "The LGBT Advisory Panel was created under the previous administration and the term of all panel members ended on March 31st.

"The Minister for Women & Equalities has written to panel members to thank them for their contributions, and plans for a replacement for the Panel will be set out in due course."

The panel was originally set up as part of then Prime Minister Theresa May's LGBT Action Plan in 2018. Its term had always been due to expire this year, but some panel members had hoped it would be extended. I understand any replacement remains 'uncertain'.

Speaking on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the prime minister said the panel's term had always been scheduled to finish at the end of March, but was unable to say why it was disbanded or if it would be replaced.

“The PM is proud to live in a liberal country... the government is committed to a free and fair country," the spokesperson said. It is being disbanded before panel members have had chance to scrutinise the details of a promised ban on so-called conversion therapy, which is expected to be announced by the government soon.

Reacting to the news, former panel member Jayne Ozanne said: "It was a force for good, where the needs of #LGBT people could be heard & understood. This does nothing to rebuild trust or reassure #LGBT community of their grave concerns."

The government has moved to reassure campaigners in recent weeks that it will implement a full ban on conversion therapy, after concerns were raised that it may be rowing back on its commitment.

Campaigners have also expressed concern on Tuesday over a letter, seen by ITV News, from the prime minister to the Evangelical Alliance - a network of Christian churches which has opposed a broad ban on conversion therapy. 

In the letter, Boris Johnson reassures the leadership of the Evangelical Alliance that "I take freedom of religion very seriously" and "we will continue to allow adults to receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer), in churches and other religious settings, in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

The prime minister continues: "Like you, I do not want to see clergy and church members criminalised for normal non-coercive activity."

The Evangelical Alliance wrote to Boris Johnson in March warning that in their view, a ban on conversion therapy could "place church leaders at risk of prosecution when they preach on biblical texts relating to marriage and sexuality".

The prime minister's reply has led some to question whether the government will ban conversion therapy in religious settings, which is where the vast majority of such practices take place.

In 2018, ITV News investigated Winners Chapel, which told our undercover reporter that his homosexuality was caused by the devil and prayer could help him to overcome it.

The church has since become a member of the Evangelical Alliance, which has declined to comment on the practices we uncovered there. 

Reacting to the news that the panel has been disbanded, the Liberal Democrats accused the government of "burying their heads in the sand".

In a statement, the party's equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: "The government is badly letting down our LGBT+ community.

"The resignation of three advisors last month should have been a wake up call, but Tory Ministers are burying their heads in the sand instead.

 “Scrapping this advisory panel is a backwards step at a time when we badly need progress from the government.

"The Tories are still dragging their feet on banning conversion therapy, and failing to tackle the rise in anti-LGBT hate crimes.

 “LGBT+ people still face far too much discrimination, and the government must do far more to tackle it.

"Liberal Democrats will keep fighting to build a fairer, more equal society where every person’s rights and dignity are respected.”